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November 11, 2002

 

 

Ron Rosser Earned Medal Of Honor
For Time In Korea

Photo
CHRIS CROOK

Ron Rosser recounts some of the exploits that led to him winning the Medal of Honor. Behind him is a photograph of him with former president Harry Truman after receiving the medal, and a replica of the medal.


TR Staff Writer

Ronald Rosser didn't go to Korea to become a hero. He didn't have to go at all.

Rosser had already served a tour in the Army, enlisting at the age of 17 in 1946.

"I tried several times to get in, but they wouldn't take me until I turned 17."

That occurred on Oct. 26, and within a couple weeks, he was off to basic training at Fort McClellan, Ala. After earning Expert Rifle and Expert Carbine qualification badges, he was one of 14 soldiers assigned to the Army Ground Forces Board No. 3, Infantry Test Board, at Fort Benning , Ga.

That assignment involved field testing new weapons, equipment, clothing, rations and other military items. It was his assignment in this unit that qualified him for the World War II Victory Medal, even though the war was over when he enlisted.

Later in his term, he went to parachute school at Fort Benning, Ga., and became a member of the famous 82nd Airborne Division. He stayed in the Army three years and got out in July 1949. Back home in Crooksville, he went to work for Misco Mining Co.

Then, in 1950, North Korea attacked South Korea, pushing American and South Korean forces back into a corner of the peninsula. During the bitter winter fighting, Rosser's younger brother, Richard, was killed in February 1951.

"I didn't know what to do," said Rosser, one of 17 children and the oldest boy. "I thought about it and decided the only thing to do was to take his place. I never really thought beyond that.

"A lot of people have said I went after vengeance," he said, admitting that may have been a part of his reasons, although he knew there was little chance he would ever encounter the same enemy soldiers who killed his brother.

By May 1951, Rosser was back in the Army, joining the 187th Airborne Division in Japan. But that division had just been chewed up in Korea, and it wouldn't be going back for six months or a year, so he volunteered to go to Korea.

Constant combat

He went with about 100 other replacements and was assigned to the 38th Infantry regiment in the 2nd Infantry Division. Of the 100 replacements, every one was killed or wounded in Korea, Rosser said.

He joined the division at the time it was fighting at what became known as Bloody Ridge.

"That was six weeks of continuous combat, from the first of August to the middle of September."

Rosser recalls those first tree months of combat as "mostly a blur. Day and night, at places like Heartbreak Ridge and Bloody Ridge, with no relief. We were climbing mountains and taking hundreds of casualties. The regiment lost 3,000 men in three months. One day there were 1,700 casualties."

They were pulled out of Bloody Ridge by truck, but were soon involved in the fighting at Heartbreak Ridge, and another six weeks of close combat, often hand to hand.

The Chinese entered the war about this time, Rosser recalls.

In one incident, he recalls mortar and artillery fire killing 1,000 Chinese in one day. He estimates they killed 10,000 North Koreans.

"They were dedicated soldiers," Rosser said. They didn't get up and run easily."

When Rosser's regiment was pulled out of the line to rest and refit, Rosser didn't go with them.

"I was sent up to the Turkish Brigade for three weeks, plotting positions for when the regiment came back and relieved the Turks.

"The night the regiment was t come up, the Turkish Brigade pulled out early and just left a handful of us there. I was scared, the Chinese could have walked right in."

An hour later, the 38th was back. Rosser knew it when he heard someone fall and began cursing in English.

"Companies were rotated into the line, but I stayed. I was a forward observer, posted out at the end of a ridge with a radio operator. I was cut off several times.

"I was the luckiest guy around. So many were killed and wounded, but I didn't know them," Rosser said.

"I had eight radio operators assigned to work with me and seven were killed or wounded."

The eighth, Bob Allen, told Rosser after a few days that he couldn't take it any more and asked to be sent back. He survived the war and came to Columbus when Rosser gave his medal to the state of Ohio to display in the Capitol building.

The U.S. regularly sent out combat patrols. Rosser was one that consisted of 73 men, almost two platoons, that went out the day before Christmas in 1951.

"Only six came back alive, and I was the only one not wounded," Rosser said.

When the Chinese struck, the patrol tried to fight its way to a riverbank. Rosser saw several small group overrun by the Chinese.

The soldiers hoped to escape the Chinese by crossing the river, but as they neared it, more Chinese appeared on the other side. Eighteen men who had started to cross the river had to swim downstream to try to escape.

"There were no medals awarded for that action."

Rosser recalls other patrols going out, sometimes with none coming back, until they increased the size of the patrols to a reinforced rifle company.

In January 1952, Rosser was part of a briefing about a hill the command was assigned to take.

"They told us it was only lightly held, but we knew better. I told the colonel the report wasn't true and, judging from the volume of fire, it was held by at least a battalion of Chinese.

"The colonel told me to shut up.

Rosser went into the action, part of the battle of the Iron Triangle, with L Company.

"Out of 170 men, 90 were killed, 12 were missing in action and the rest were wounded, some multiple times," Rosser said.

Rosser said the Air Force was dropping 500-pound bombs all around them, there Chinese machine guns on the hill and four tanks sent to get them out couldn't get through.

"It felt like Custer's Last Stand," Rosser said.

When Rosser and the other soldiers headed up the hill, he knew others were being hit, but he didn't know he was alone until he was right in front of one of the Chinese positions. Rosser looked around, realized he was the only American still standing and figured he might as well go for broke.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Rosser attacked the Chinese positions three times that day and the Medal of Honor citation probably underplays what happened because it had to be based on what was actually observed by the Americans back down the hill.

The miracle was the Rosser was not seriously hurt in the action. He was wounded in the back of his shoulder and in the leg by grenade fragments, but was never hit by a bullet,

"The Chinese were as close as me to you," Rosser said, indicating a distance of about 10 feet, "and firing at me with submachine guns. I have no idea how they missed me."

One of the things Rosser is proud of is that all of the dead and wounded, except 12, were brought out. Those 12, he thinks, were typical of most Missing in Action cases -- soldiers who were killed but for some reason or other never had their bodies accounted for.

Even after Rosser was nominated for the Medal of Honor, he stayed with the regiment in the field. He recalls how a general sent orders for him to leave the front, but he refused to leave until the regiment was relieved in April.

Looking back, Rosser laughs, "I suppose I was a mean son of a bitch and a real hard case."

The description certainly doesn't describe the genial man who spends much of his time talking to students at elementary and high schools and making other public appearances. This week, for example, he's visiting a high school near Pataskala, New Lexington High School and Crooksville K-8 School, along with several other public appearances.

Sometimes his schedule gets so busy he has to turn down invitations, even from the highest level.

"President Bush wanted me to attend a breakfast at the White House, but I was already scheduled to be someplace else and I had to turn him down," Rosser said. "I've had to turn him down three times since he was elected."

Since President Truman presented Rosser with the Medal of Honor, he has met every man who has occupied the White House since that time.

He even led the Moscow Victory Day Parade in May one year after being invited by a Soviet Air Marshal he had met at a diplomatic function.

On Sept. 11, 2001, he was in Korea when the planes hit the World Trade Center. Unable to return to the United States for several days, he decided to travel on to China. There, he said, he was treated like a king, visiting the top attractions and being feted at banquets.

Army career

After Korea, Rosser stayed in the Army. He had assignments at several places around the nation and world, including a tour in Korea in the late 1950s and time as a parachute instructor at Fort Benning. In 1958 he was selected to be one of the body bearers at the internment of the World War II and Korean War representatives at the Tomb of the Unknowns

He stayed in the Army until 1968, when, while assigned to another famous unit, the 101st Airborne, he was still in the United States while most of the unit was in Vietnam.

Rosser asked when he would get orders to also go to Vietnam. After several delays, he was finally told he wouldn't be going.

"Why?" he asked.

He was told that as a Medal of Honor winner and having had two brothers killed in the service (a second brother was killed in Vietnam), the Army would find it hard to explain if something happened to him. Hitting a stone wall on the issue, Rosser decided to leave the service.

He went to college, graduating from Florida Atlantic University, and taught for five years. In West Palm Beach, Fla., where he had been stationed as a recruiter for several years, he even served as police chief of a small community, a position he had also held while a recruiter there.

Tiring of teaching, he took a job as a construction foreman for a while, but finally, in 1982, he retired and returned to this area, settling in Roseville.

  • Ronald E. Rosser, 73
  • Entered service -- (first time) November, 1946; (second time) May, 1951
  • Discharged -- (first time) July, 1949; (second time) 1968
  • Rank at discharge -- Sergeant First Class; Rank while in Korea -- Corporal
  • Decorations -- Medal of Honor, Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with four Battle Stars, Distinguished Unit Citation, Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, World War II Victory Medal, Numerous other honorary and commemorative medals.
  • Married to the former Sandy Luster

His home is filled with memorabilia he has accumulated over the years, although he and his wife, the former Sandy Luster, have been clearing some of it out, giving some items to his daughter, donating others to various places.

He has pictures on the wall of either Sandy or he with people like Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf -- Schwarzkopf was one of his students at the parachute school.

Looking at the pictures, Sandy laughed and said, "Ron jokes and tells them they can't have their picture taken with me unless they have at least four stars."

In her 20 years with Ron, she has become used to rubbing elbows with famous people like Powell and Schwarzkopf. "I was really nervous the first few times, but after you talk to them you find out they're just normal people."

Rosser was nervous, too, the first time he met a president.

"When I went to Washington to get the medal, the newsman from WHIZ went with me. He said I looked like a scared high school boy in the office of the principal."

It was easier for him to face Chinese machine guns.

cmartin@nncogannett.com

 
2002, by Times Recorder
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